The Sloan Resignation: “Vision Minus the Visionary”

Several weeks ago I wrote about the resignation of Robert Sloan from the presidency of Baylor University in a blog titled, “The Demise of Sloan and the Fortunes of ‘Baylor 2012’.” In that essay I concluded with the following: “I fear that the vision of ‘Baylor 2012’ will have a whole different character or be perhaps entirely lost without Sloan at the helm. However, I am reminded by a good friend that the glass may not be half empty, but half full . . . I will be hoping and praying that my friend is right.”

According to an article in the March issue of Christianity Today, the glass may indeed be half full. In “Vision Minus the Visionary,” Robert Benne predicts that, “there is good reason to believe that Baylor 2012 will go firmly forward under a new administration. There is no guarantee that this ambitious plan will be completely successful or that it will now be free of controversy, but its likelihood of success is now greater without Sloan than it was with him.” It remains to be seen whether this analysis will be correct, but I recommend your reading the article anyway (click on the following link).

“Vision Minus the Visionary” – by Robert Benne


Brothers, let us love with our words

When it comes to sin, Christians often get the most exercised about avoiding the “biggies.” For many in the conservative wing of Christianity, that means a preoccupation with certain behaviors that should be avoided. Those behaviors are summed up in the familiar rhyme:

I don’t smoke, drink, cuss, or chew
And I don’t go around with people who do.

Yet the reductionism of this formula (whose biblicity will have to be discussed at another time), like many other kinds of behavior modification theories, fails to shed any light on some of the darker corners of our hearts that we don’t like for anyone to see. It is these cherished and concealed peccadillos that truly threaten to destroy us as individuals and as a fellowship of believers.

One such sin that often slips in under the radar unnoticed is gossip. To engage in gossiping means to give “a report (often malicious) about the behavior of other people.” The Bible has many terms for this kind of behavior: slander (Ps 15:2; Mk 7:22), gossip (2 Cor 12:20); backbiting tongue (Prov 25:23), to name a few. All of these describe one’s using their words to speak out against another in a way that defames, belittles, or misrepresents them, and it is roundly condemned by God (Lev 19:16; Prov 10:18; Ps 140:11). Indeed, the wise man knows that, “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip” (Prov 20:19).

Yet gossip is one of those besetting sins that ensnare all of us at some time or another. The reason for this indulgence often emerges as willingness to capitulate to the worser angels of our nature. Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body” (cf. Prov 26:22). This text simply means that we like to hear the whisperings of a gossip. We like to “get the goods” on other people, especially when there’s dirty laundry involved. Somehow it makes us feel really good to listen to and to dole out “the dainty morsels” that defame others.

In our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ, this evil proclivity accounts for much of what is wrong with our churches. When we get offended by a brother or are scandalized by the behavior of a sister, we immediately gather others around to tell them about the grievous misdeeds of the wayward so that we can “pray” for them.

Yet this is clearly not the ethic that Jesus commended for us. One of the ways that we love each other is to follow strictly the mandates of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17:

“15 And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”

Jesus sets forth very plainly a three-step process for what we are to do when we are offended or scandalized by the behavior of a brother or sister. The first step in that process consists in going and confronting the offender in private. Notice that Jesus does not say, “Go gather a bunch of other believers together and tell them your beef with your brother so they can pray for you.” No, the directive is to keep the matter private for as long as possible so that you can “win” your brother. The sad thing is that we often ignore Jesus in our relationships. We like to go public first by gossiping, and then to put off as long as possible the confrontation with the offending brother. This is the opposite of what Jesus commands, and it is the opposite of love.

So my exhortation is that we love one another with our words. Often, love calls us to hold back our words, to keep back those would-be “dainty morsels.” Sometimes the best thing to do is to just keep quiet. “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov 10:19). At other times, it will be necessary to say the words in love to the brother who has offended, even if the words bring confrontation. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov 27:6). In any case, the question that governs our behavior is not, “What do I want to do?,” but “What would love have me do?”

So brothers, let us love with our words.

The Purpose-Driven Resurrection

I am reading The Purpose-Driven Life along with other members of my church in a 40-day study of Rick Warren’s blockbuster book. The book contains both positives and negatives. On the positive side, no serious Christian could argue with the main points of the book, which are but a summary of what every Christian should be about: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. Rick Warren is right on target with these as they are clear imperatives that appear in different ways throughout scripture.

There are, however, certain drawbacks to this best-seller that one would do well to pay attention to. Warren’s frequent proof-texting sometimes runs roughshod over the context of the verse in question with the result that one is sometimes left with a less-than-accurate understanding of the biblical writer’s real intention.[1] The use of paraphrased versions of the Bible (New Living Translation, The Message) also leaves much to be desired.[2]

In this essay, I would like to focus on one particular area of concern. Warren appears to embrace a kind of dualism that is frequently heard in popular evangelical preaching today. In chapter 4, Warren explains that people are “made to last forever,” and he embarks upon an explanation of the nature of the eternal state. He writes: “One day your heart will stop beating. That will be the end of your body and your time on earth, but it will not be the end of you. Your earthly body is just a temporary residence for your spirit” (p. 37). This passage seems to suggest that our non-physical self (the soul) is eternal while our physical self (the body) is only temporary. A mind/body dualism emerges here that is foreign to the Bible. Warren quotes 2 Corinthians 5:6 to explain the different mode of existence which believers have in “heaven”: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” From Warren’s explanation of this text, one is left with the impression that our future mode of existence in heaven is non-physical, being characterized by not having a physical body.

Yet this is not at all what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. In fact, Paul is teaching quite the opposite. Paul is arguing that our ultimate hope is that God will resurrect the bodies of believers after they die. The eternal state is very much a physical state. In the eternal state, Christians will not be “unclothed” (2 Cor 5:4), but will have put on the clothing of a new resurrected, glorified body.

This hope of resurrection is actually the center of New Testament hope. Christians are supposed to look forward not only to heaven, but to resurrection. That is why Paul urged the Thessalonians who were burying their loved ones who had died: “13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:13-16 NIV). Paul encouraged the Thessalonians who were grieving the death of their loved ones by telling them that God would resurrect their bodies just like He resurrected Jesus’ body.

One of God’s purposes for Jesus’ resurrection is that believers should look to Christ’s resurrection as an example of what He will do for them in the future. Consider Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:16-22: “16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Paul’s argument is that if Christ has not been resurrected then believers won’t be resurrected either. He simply assumes that resurrection is what all Christians should be looking forward to after death.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul uses the doctrine of resurrection to refute those who say that the physical body is morally irrelevant to God. Paul argues that the believer’s body is not for immorality but for the Lord because the Lord will one day raise up the believer’s body just as Jesus’ body was raised. Indeed, the physical body is called “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” No dualism here. In fact, Paul is arguing against the very kind of mind/body dualism that has become so prevalent in the modern day.

We would all do well to keep in mind a purpose-driven resurrection. God’s ultimate purpose for the believer is that they should glorify Him forever in resurrected physical bodies. He wants us to believe His promise that we will be raised just as Jesus was. We won’t be like Casper the friendly ghost, disembodied “spirits” roaming to and fro upon the clouds. We will be ourselves again, as God always intended for us to be: whole, physical, sinless, perfected, glorifying him. Until we fix our eyes on that hope, we are hoping in something less than what God purposes for us.
[1]In chapter 4, Warren completely misinterprets 1 Corinthians 2:9, which he quotes from the Living Bible: “No mere man has ever seen, heard or even imagined what wonderful things God has ready for those who love the Lord.” Warren uses this verse to make the point that the human mind cannot comprehend what heaven will be like (p. 38). Yet when considered in context, 1 Corinthians 2:9 is clearly not talking about heaven, but about the cross of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:24). Indeed it is the wisdom that is “hidden” from the rulers of this age (1 Cor 2:7). Yet this wisdom has been revealed to believers “through the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:10). Paul’s point is not that something has been hidden from Christians but that something has been revealed to them that is not revealed to others. Christians can see and enjoy the wisdom of God in the cross. So Warren has completely misunderstood this text. Christians do in fact understand “what wonderful things God has ready for those who love the Lord.” As a matter of fact, this is what distinguishes believers from unbelievers. Believers “get it,” and unbelievers don’t.
[2]There are many examples throughout the book. Consider Warren’s argument in chapter 12 on “Developing Your Friendship with God.” In this section, Warren claims that a healthy friendship with God includes “accusing” God when one is not pleased with what God does. Warren uses Moses’ words in Exodus 33:12-17 from The Message to bolster his point: “‘Look, you tell me to lead this people but you don’t let me know whom you’re going to send with me. . . . If I’m so special to you, let me in on your plans. . . . Don’t forget, this is YOUR people, your responsibility. . . . If your presence doesn’t take the lead here, call this trip off right now! How else will I know that you’re with me in this, with me and your people? Are you traveling with us or not? . . .’ God said to Moses, ‘All right. Just as you say; this also I will do, for I know you well and you are special to me.’” (quoted on pages 93-94). Does The Message really capture the content and tone of the conversation between God and Moses in this text? Compare that translation to the one found in the NASB, the translation widely regarded by scholars to be the most literal English translation: “12 Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, Thou dost say to me, “Bring up this people!” But Thou Thyself hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Moreover, Thou hast said, “I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.” 13 Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight. Consider too, that this nation is Thy people.’ 14 And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’ 15 Then he said to Him, ‘If Thy presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Thy sight, I and Thy people? Is it not by Thy going with us, so that we, I and Thy people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?’ 17 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight, and I have known you by name.’” The Message makes it sound like Moses disrespects God, a notion that does not appear in the NASB.

Mohler Blasts McLaren and the “Emergent” Church Movement

I don’t know if you saw TIME magazine’s recent issue on the 25 most influential American evangelicals, but a pastor named Brian McLaren made the list. I saw McLaren interviewed on Larry King after the issue came out. The more McLaren talked, the more peeved I became. He was absolutely ridiculous in his inability to articulate any conviction on any important issue—except to say that other evangelicals are too hung up on dividing people with their beliefs.

R. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, just reviewed McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy, and gave it the raking-over-the-coals that it deserves. He also comments on the so-called “Emergent” church movement and its insistence on a rejection of propositional truth. Therefore, I commend Dr. Mohler’s essay to you for your enjoyment and edification (see link below).

“A Generous Orthodoxy”—Is it Orthodox? – by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Review of “Justification—What’s at Stake in the Current Debates”

Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, eds. Justification—What’s at Stake in the Current Debates (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004). ISBN: 0830827811. $23.00.

The ten papers appearing in this volume are selections from the conference on Justification held at Wheaton College Graduate school in April of 2003: “The Gospel, Freedom and Righteousness: The Doctrine of Justification.” One would think that a book such as this one, published at the time that this one was, would be all about the current debate over the so-called “new perspective” on Paul. This collection of essays, however, demonstrates that there is much more to the Justification debate than the quarrel about the character of first century rabbinic Judaism and its influence on the apostle to the Gentiles. These papers take up the question whether imputed righteousness is “fictive, forensic or transformative” (p. 7). The book divides into four parts: (1) Justification and Biblical theology, (2) Justification and the Crisis of Protestantism, (2) Justification in Protestant Traditions, and (4) Justification and Ecumenical Endeavor.

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Review of “Justification—What’s at Stake in the Current Debates”

Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, eds. Justification—What’s at Stake in the Current Debates (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004). ISBN: 0830827811. $23.00.

The ten papers appearing in this volume are selections from the conference on Justification held at Wheaton College Graduate school in April of 2003: “The Gospel, Freedom and Righteousness: The Doctrine of Justification.” One would think that a book such as this one, published at the time that this one was, would be all about the current debate over the so-called “new perspective” on Paul. This collection of essays, however, demonstrates that there is much more to the Justification debate than the quarrel about the character of first century rabbinic Judaism and its influence on the apostle to the Gentiles. These papers take up the question whether imputed righteousness is “fictive, forensic or transformative” (p. 7). The book divides into four parts: (1) Justification and Biblical theology, (2) Justification and the Crisis of Protestantism, (2) Justification in Protestant Traditions, and (4) Justification and Ecumenical Endeavor.

In part one, Robert H. Gundry and D. A. Carson present opposing viewpoints on the meaning of imputation in Paul’s theology. This exchange is really just the next round in an ongoing debate that began when Gundry published a controversial article on the subject in Books & Culture, “Why I Didn’t Endorse ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration’. . .even though I wasn’t asked to.”

In his essay in the current volume, “The Nonimputation of Christ’s Righteousness,” Gundry argues that Paul’s imputation language nowhere states that Christ’s righteousness is imputed. I commend Gundry for his serious and consistent engagement of the biblical text in formulating his argument against imputation. Too many arguments about imputation stray far a field from the scriptures and reel off into debates about philosophical constructs that bear little if any immediate resemblance to the arguments of Paul. Gundry recognizes that the Scripture is indeed the battleground, and this is precisely where Gundry likes to take his stand. This being said, however, I think that Gundry’s essay misses the mark on a number of points.

First, Gundry writes with a garrulous prose that often obscures the point he is trying to make. For instance, on page 41 we find the following sentence: “In 2 Corinthians 5:21 the making of him who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf refers again to the propitiatory death of Christ, for which his sinlessness qualified him (cf. 1 Pet 3:18); and our becoming the righteousness of God in him refers to the attained purpose of that death, namely, God’s counting as righteousness the faith that united us to the Christ who died for us.” This is a ghastly sentence, and it is hard to imagine that this was originally read aloud. One of the chief obstacles to fruitful debate over the issue of imputation is that opponents often misunderstand one another, as Carson points out in his remarks on “domains of discourse.” This kind of needlessly diffuse verbiage permeates his essay and makes it more difficult to read than need be.

Second, Gundry is prone to making false dichotomies in his exegesis in order to make his case against imputation. For instance, on page 35 in footnote 38, Gundry argues against John Piper that Christ’s “fulfilling all righteousness” is “exemplary rather than vicarious.” Gundry makes a very convincing case that Matthew presents this “fulfilling” as exemplary. But this exegesis does not exclude the possibility that “fulfilling all righteousness” is both exemplary and vicarious. Gundry does not even acknowledge this possibility. Gundry also makes a false dichotomy between Christ’s propitiatory death and his life of obedience: “the act of righteousness consisted in obeying God the Father to the extent of dying on a cross and did not include the totality of Christ’s earthly life” (p. 32). In Philippians 2:8, at least, this argument ignores the fact mechri is a “marker of degree or measure” (BDAG, 644), such that Christ’s “obedience” is construed not only in its climax (the cross) but also in the life of obedience that precedes the climax.

D. A. Carson offers the second essay of part one: “The Vindication of Imputation: On Fields of Discourse and Semantic Fields.” Carson shows that arguments such as Gundry’s fall apart when one considers that theologians often speak in two domains of discourse: exegesis and theology. While it is true that the logizomai word-group is not linked explicitly with the righteousness of Christ in Paul’s writings (the exegetical field of discourse), it is certain that the substance of the idea is contained within Paul’s theology (the theological field of discourse). While we would not want to read a full-blow doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness into every use of logizomai, that does not make the doctrine itself non-Pauline. Carson effectively shows that when Paul speaks of faith being counted as righteousness, faith is counted as something it is not not: “God’s imputation of Abraham’s faith to Abraham as righteousness cannot be grounded in the assumption that that faith is itself intrinsically righteous, so that God’s ‘imputing’ of it to Abraham is no more than a recognition of what it intrinsically is” (p. 60). God does not count Abraham as righteous because of what he is intrinsically through his faith: “In that sense, then, we are dealing with what systematicians call an alien righteousness” (ibid.). It is this reviewer’s opinion that Carson has presented a more compelling case for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness than has Gundry.

In part two, the title of Bruce McCormack’s essay asks the question that he is concerned to answer, “What’s at Stake in Current Debates over Justification? The Crisis of Protestantism in the West.” McCormack answers that the whole doctrinal basis of the Reformation is at stake in the current debate over Justification: “What is at stake in the current debates over justification? My answer is: nothing less than the Reformation” (p. 82). McCormack contends that “at the heart of the Reformation understanding of justification lay the notion of a positive imputation of Christ’s righteousness” (p. 83). In an overview of the theology of Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, McCormack shows that the Reformers break with medieval Catholicism was less than complete “due to a residual commitment to Medieval Catholic understandings of regeneration and a shaky grasp of the relation of justification and regeneration” (p. 84). McCormack may be correct in his historical reconstruction, but his theological conclusion could have been made stronger if he had made a better attempt to show how his view emerges from the scriptures (see p. 106 where McCormack offers his disclaimer about not appealing to scripture to support his view).

The second essay in part two, “Justification and Justice: The Promising Problematique of Protestant Ethics in the Work of Paul L. Lehmann” by Philip G. Ziegler, considers the ethical implications of the doctrine of Justification. Ziegler sets out to show the value of Paul Lehmann’s claim that, “for Christian theology, the beginning of all social and political criticism as well as endeavor is the salutary critique of morality and religion which takes place in the advent of the justification of the ungodly in the person and work of Jesus Christ” (p. 122).

The first essay in part three is by a biblical scholar, not a historical theologian. In “Luther, Melanchthon and Paul on the Question of Imputation: Recommendations on a Current Debate,” Mark Seifrid contends that Luther and Melanchthon held different views on the issue of imputation: “Melanchthon takes the human being as his starting-point, and thinks of justification in terms of human qualities and response. It is surely for this reason that he has such a great difficulty in understanding Luther, who views justification first and foremost in terms of the work of the Gospel, the word of God, which, apart from any contribution from the fallen human being, brings the new creature into existence, in whom faith and all its works are present” (p. 143). Many will see Seifrid’s reading of Luther as unconventional as he argues that for Luther imputation is not merely “forensic” but also “an effective word of God” (p. 145). Seifrid concludes that the popular doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is an accretion attributable to Melanchthon. Seifrid’s own reading of Paul’s imputation language agrees with Gundry (p. 146).

The second essay in part three is by Robert Kolb: “Contemporary Lutheran Understandings of the Doctrine of Justification: A Selective Glimpse.” In this paper, Kolb offers reflections on his participation in the August 2002 International Congress on Luther Research in Copenhagen. He contrasts two streams of Luther interpretation that are current today. Kolb concludes that Luther taught that justification is both forensic and effective. He commends this understanding of justification as one that is the most faithful reading of Luther and the most faithful reading of the Gospel: “God’s justifying word of the Gospel impels believers into the performance of God’s expectations for their whole lives” (p. 175).

The third essay in part three is by Kenneth J. Collins: “The Doctrine of Justification: Historic Wesleyan and Contemporary Understandings.” Collins asserts that John Wesley was “one of the greatest champions of sola fide on English soil” (p. 177). After an exposition of Wesley’s doctrine of justification by faith, Collins argues that the 1999 “Joint Declaration” between Lutherans and Roman Catholics does not affirm a faithful Protestant understanding of justification.

The first essay in part four is by Anthony S. Lane: “Twofold Righteousness: A Key to the Doctrine of Justification?” Lane gives an examination of article 5 of the 1541 Regensburg Colloquy, in which “Protestant and Catholic theologians produced an agreed statement on justification by faith” (p. 205). Lane concludes that if Evangelical Protestants could consider adopting the “twofold righteousness” language of article 5 without letting go of the language of justification/sanctification, then Evangelicals might better avoid “lapsing into a soft form of Antinomianism” (p. 221). Lane adds an appendix with a new translation of Article 5.

The second essay of part four is by Paul Molnar, the only Roman Catholic contributor: “The Theology of Justification in Dogmatic Context.” He uses the work of Karl Barth and Karl Rahner to show that conversations between Protestants and Catholics can agree upon theological positions that use the same language, but that the respective sides may be employing that language with different meanings. He insists that any agreement between Protestants and Catholics must have a statement on “theological method, our knowledge of God, the incarnation and the resurrection as starting points for that knowledge of God and therefore of our justification by faith” (p. 248).

The last essay of part four, is by Geoffrey Wainwright: “The Ecclesial Scope of Justification.” Wainwright sets forth an understanding of justification that has the potential for ecumenical reconciliation. He concludes that unity between Protestants and Catholics lies somewhere in the midst of a series of controversial tensions: (1) the individual versus the church, (2) passivity versus activity, (3) imputated righteousness versus imparted righteousness.

The current reviewer’s opinion is that the most important essays in this volume are the ones written by the Carson and Gundry. At the end of the day, the debate over justification is a debate over Paul, and this is precisely what their essays discuss. It is interesting that so little of the volume addresses the debate on the so-called “New Perspective” on Paul. There will be a Copernican revolution in conservative systematics and biblical theology if this new paradigm carries the day. Thus, we would like to have seen more interaction on this subject. Nevertheless, this volume is useful in setting forth a variety of contemporary perspectives on this seminal doctrine.

Review of “Making Sense of the New Testament”

Craig L. Blomberg, Making Sense of the New Testament: Three Crucial Questions (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2004). ISBN: 0801027470. $14.99.

Craig Blomberg’s Making Sense of the New Testament is published as a companion volume to Tremper Longman’s 1998 book, Making Sense of the Old Testament: Three Crucial Questions. In the current volume, Blomberg sets out to identify “three crucial questions” that must be answered by anyone who wishes to consider the truth-claims of the New Testament. In chapter 1, he sets out to answer the question of whether the New Testament presents a reliable historical portrait of Jesus. Here he takes up the old question of whether the Christ of history resembles the Christ of the scriptures. Blomberg concludes that the historicity of the Gospels and Acts is confirmed by sound evidence and that accepting their historical claims does not require a leap of faith. Blomberg does a good job of taking the reader step-by-step through the evidence, and in the end produces a very convincing apologetic for the veracity of the Gospels and Acts.

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